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NAMHE's position on Facilitating Subjects

06/03/2014

The NAMHE Committee is concerned about the implications for Music in Higher Education of the Russell Group's identification of eight "facilitating subjects". These are subjects the Russell Group advises students to select for A'level if they wish to maximise their chances of being accepted by the "best universities". The eight subjects are Maths and Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography, Languages (Classical and Modern), and English Literature. The Russell Group's video Informed Choices advises that these are "the subjects RG universities most frequently ask for" and comments that "these subjects are particularly good at equipping you with the skills and knowledge you need for lots of our courses, so please think twice before dropping them". More information and further discussion can be found in the Russell Group's Informed Choices document, which is aimed at parents and pupils making decisions about which subjects to take at A'level.

Recently school performance in the eight "facilitating subjects" has been taken as a performance measure feeding into School League Tables (the "ABacc"), and this, combined with recent cuts in sixth-form funding, is encouraging hard-pressed schools to reduce provision in non-facilitating subjects such as Music. Students keen to maximise their chances of a good university place are encouraged to think that Music A'level is only for those who want to study for a degree in Music. Music A'level is, therefore, under threat across the UK, and what NAMHE believes is an over-emphasis on the eight "facilitating subjects" is limiting the options for students at A'level, leading to choices being made on the basis of "subjects that will count" rather than on natural aptitude and personal aspirations. NAMHE understands that the Russell Group never intended its "facilitating subjects" discussion to be utilised in this way, and indeed "facilitating subjects" do not figure in the admissions advice given by individual Russell Group universities – Sheffield, for example, lists 33 subjects as appropriate prior study at A'level in the advice it gives to potential applicants.

With this situation in mind, NAMHE advocates two corrective measures: that the Russell Group either expands its group of "facilitating subjects" to lessen the narrowing effect on student choices, or (or preferably and) a school's performance in "facilitating subjects" should not be used as a performance measure in School League Tables. NAMHE is concerned about anything that limits the choices available to students progressing to A'levels, particularly those that reduce opportunities for students wishing to develop careers in the performing arts and creative industries. It also advocates for the general educational value of Music as a discipline to any student who has an interest in it, whether or not they want to study the subject at university or conservatoire. In this it agrees with UCAS's statement in response to the DfE's recent 16-19 Accountability consultation document, that "learners should base their Level 3 qualification choices on what is in the best interest for them".

In this spirit NAMHE has confirmed its support for the ISM campaign EBacc for the Future. NAMHE also advises music colleagues in HE to become involved in the A'level reforms currently in progress and also to get involved in their local schools to ensure the value of music as an A'level subject and focus for further study and training for its own sake is fully represented at decision-making levels. Members could consider, for example, applying to become a governor of a school in England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

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